Detox diets come and go, like any other fad. One popular diet has staying power. It has been around for at least 1,600 years.
Temple food refers to the food eaten daily at Buddhist temples. At Buddhist temples, everything is considered a part of practice. From growing vegetables to preparing the food, monks and nuns are directly involved in the whole process.
Spirit and values contained in Temple Food
Temple Food constitutes a cultural core that gives a concrete form to the essential teachings of Buddhism on its path to healthy living and ultimate enlightenment. It trains human beings on how to live harmoniously with nature and take nature’s offerings in the spirit of interbeing.
“You can’t understand monastic culture without understanding monastic food,” says Gye Ho, the Overt Nun who runs Jinkwansa temple in the mountains outside of Seoul. She has been a practicing nun for more than 50 years.”The food creates the entire human being,” she says. “It shapes our mind and body.”
Korean temple food has also traditionally meant that monks and nuns do not use five pungent vegetables (onions, garlic, chives, green onions and leeks), these are called the “o-shin-chae”, because they hinder spiritual practice.
The prohibition of the five pungent vegetables is a preventive measure to guard Buddhist practitioners from possible distractions during meditation.
These characteristics of temple food show how Buddhist monks and nuns realize the interdependence of all lives and that they must strive to establish a world in which all live together in harmony.
Instead of artificial flavors, Korean temple food uses a variety of mountain herbs and wild greens, which has led to the development of a vegetarian tradition. As most Korean temples are located in the mountains, providing easy access to wild roots, stems, leaves, fruits and flowers, monks and nuns have naturally become leaders in shaping vegetarian culture.
Also, natural seasonings and flavor enhancers have been developed.
Examples of common natural seasonings used in temples are : mushroom powder, kelp powder, jae-pi powder, perilla seed powder, and uncooked bean powder.
These seasonings are used when making soup stock, kimchi and vegetable dishes, correcting nutritional imbalance and enhancing flavors. Having been used in temples since ancient times, these natural seasonings are emerging in modern times as a powerful alternative to artificial flavorings which may be harmful to one’s health.
There are fermented radishes, mushroom fritters, marinated tofu and crispy greens. Thinly sliced eggplant and fried potato slices sit next to clear soup and a bowl of rice.
The monastery makes up to 30 different kinds of sauce from fermented soybeans. The jars sit in a spot that gets full sun all day long — that’s important for the fermentation process. In these urns, some soybeans have been fermenting for 20 years, others for as long as 50 years. The smell is as layered and complex as any aged whiskey or ripe cheese.
People from all over the world come to the monastery to experience this lifestyle. During our visit, 240 visitors were participating in the temple stay program, waking up at 3:30 each morning to meditate and detox.
Gye Ho, the Overt Nun who runs this temple explains that for the nuns, cooking and eating are spiritual as well as physical practices. “We prepare our food with a clear mind,” she says. “We recognize that the best sauce in the world is the heart that we put into our cooking.”
Temple Food reminds us of the circle of life by showing how all humans, like food, are born from nature and ultimately returns to it.
Here’s the temple’s recipe for making Kongguksu, or soybean noodles.